Protecting Flag worth the effort

In its 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down - by a 5 to 4 vote - more than 200 years of laws protecting the U.S. Flag from physical desecration.

The right to protect the flag was a right that we, as a country, had possessed since the birth of our nation. In the years since our independence, the U.S. Flag has come to symbolize the values of America - freedom, democracy, courage and peace through strength. To desecrate the flag is to desecrate those values.

Since the 1989 decision, Congress and the media have engaged in numerous heated debates about a proposed constitutional amendment that would return to the people their right to protect the flag. Several polls have been conducted to determine if U.S. citizens would support such an amendment. Through all the debate and research, two constants have emerged: The American Legion's unwavering support for the amendment, and the fact that about 80 percent of Americans feel that passing such an amendment is the right thing to do.

As yet, new legislation hasn't been introduced in either the House or Senate; it could happen by May in both chambers. But we have work to do before that happens.

Five years of polls by the Citizens Flag Alliance show that more than three-quarters of Americans favor the amendment, and 80 percent say they feel that flag desecration is wrong. Why, then, won't the Senate put the vote in the hands of the people it represents? That's all the Legion asks: pass the amendment and then send it to the states for ratification. Let the people decide. But some in the Senate believe they know better than their constituents, or perhaps they're just not listening.

Here's where the grassroots power of The American Legion can make a difference. The two senators from your home state don't care what David K. Rehbein thinks about the flag amendment. I don't have a vote in their state. But they do care what you think, because you have a vote, and that vote is your most powerful tool when it comes to dealing with Congress.

That's why I'm asking you to contact your senators and representatives. Call their district offices. Write to them in Washington. Send them e-mails. Give them this simple message: "Support the flag amendment when it's introduced. Sign on as a co-sponsor. Urge your colleagues to do the same. Give the amendment a chance to go before the people."

Your lobbying at the local level empowers our lobbying at the national level. Congress will listen to me more closely if they've already heard from you. That's how The American Legion has always worked.

The language of past amendments has been simple enough: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

The words are powerful. They would allow us to protect a symbol so sacred, it's draped over the caskets of the men and women killed defending our way of life. A symbol that gives hope to oppressed countries under attack from dominating enemies, and for citizens legally traveling to the United States to seek a better life. The flags hanging on the Pentagon and at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks signaled that our resolve is unwavering. Shouldn't a symbol so significant to so many people be protected, the same as someone's personal property? Shouldn't it be afforded the same protection as a U.S. mailbox or a dollar bill?

Twenty years ago, five court justices took away our right to protect the U.S. Flag. Trying to retake that right has demanded a lot of time and effort, but every second has been worth it. And every second we spend on it in the future will be worth it, because Old Glory is worth it.